James Ledbetter (left) along side of Jacob Weisberg, Chairman of the Slate Group (Courtesy of New York Times)
By Kyle Austin
As I teased in yesterday’s post on the relaunch of the new WSJ.com, I had the chance to catch-up with James Ledbetter, editor of the newly launched TheBigMoney.com on Monday. Here is my full interview with him.
RaceTalk: So James, you launched TheBigMoney.com today, which timed with the culmination of one of the wildest weekends on Wall Street in decades. What are your thoughts (in addition to what you wrote on Sunday) to the fall of Lehman, the buy of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America and the overall market situation?
James Ledbetter: It’s a hell of a week. We are witnessing the reshaping of the Wall Street landscape, and significant worldwide pessimism about financial institutions. The economy is the number one issue in the presidential race, yet neither candidate has articulated policy recommendations that would address this financial crisis. That may be a measure of the gap between Main Street and Wall Street, but it is nonetheless sobering to think that so little expertise and leadership exists, either in the White House, Treasury, the Street or the Congress.
RaceTalk: You had a good run at CNNMoney.com, what made you leave for this initiative? Did TIME Inc’s and CNNMoney’s efforts to overhaul its somewhat archaic online structure fail?
JL: I would not call CNNMoney archaic! I believe they are on track for something like 5 billion page views this year, and they have massively ramped up their video offerings this year. They are a world leader in this space. I came to Slate in March because The Big Money represents a rare opportunity to start a site anew, to reassess the relationship between the Web and financial journalism, and to break away from some parts of financial journalism – such as personal finance – that don’t interest me that much.
RaceTalk: At CNNMoney.com you and David Kirkpatrick were leading the video content charge. How big a part of TheBigMoney.com will video be? The YouTube Brandwatch feature is something new that we haven’t seen with other business sites before, how did you get the idea for this feature? Do you find that top executives are becoming more interested in how their brands are being perceived on places like YouTube and Twitter?
JL: We’re very enthusiastic about video; at the same time, we’re more interested in doing new and interesting things with video than reproducing what is essentially business TV snippets. YouTube Brandwatch came out of a conversation I had with the two principals of Custom Communication, Matt Yeomans and Bernhard Warner. They are exceptionally creative guys, and have done a lot of thinking about online brand presence. I have a lot of hopes for this being an engaging and fun feature of the site.
RaceTalk: You were using “WSJquips” as a Twitter feed for several weeks before the launch of the site. It seemed to be a good social marketing ploy as it got me to take notice of the new site launching. How will you use Twitter going forward? Will you encourage your audience to become part of the story creation process through Twitter?
JL: Right now, the WSJquips Twitter feed is a one-way communication tool for us. I think we need a few months of feedback on that before we figure out the next steps (and I won’t tell them to potential competitors until we launch them!).
RaceTalk: I also like the “We build your presentation feature,” as it seems to be another tool that will create additional engagement. I saw in the New York Times that Infiniti and American Express are underwriting the site through the year, however as you evolve into a somewhat traditional advertising model – will user engagement be a big part of the upside you are selling advertisers? It seems that other business sites like BusinessWeek.com are really selling user engagement to advertisers.
JL: To be perfectly honest, I’m not involved in the ad selling part of The Big Money, I don’t really know how they are pitching us, except that we have compelling content.
RaceTalk: Why the “Google” and “Food Industry” blogs to begin with? Will you add to these? Explain to me how the two blogs will help in giving a greater analysis of the overall business market.
JL: I’ve created and edited a lot of blogs over the years, and there aren’t many I’d consider a huge success. I think the criteria for a successful blog are: high volume; no shortage of interesting topics and angles on those topics; a good mix between topic and writer; and something that can engage a broad audience. I think Google and the food business are two very popular topics and that covering them aggressively will give the site some alluring. We’ll add blogs as they make sense.